For the last two days I’ve found myself engaged in critical, almost philosophical discussion about the modeling/fashion industry with my friend Amelia, another model, who has had very successful show seasons and is now considering pursuing her bachelor’s degree in order to then get her master’s at MIT. We’re levelheaded girls. Our long-term goals have nothing to do with modeling. We have both been fortunate in the sense that modeling has been our own pursuit. We were not forced or persuaded into the industry, and so we understand it more as a means to our personal ends, rather than the end in itself. Despite our shared sense of self-assuredness, however, we both often find ourselves interpellated (in the Althusserian sense) into the industry’s ideology, in which we are replaceable and disposable things that have no personal identities.
I know I’m not saying anything new or shocking. It’s the fact of the industry, and I knew it from the beginning. But what’s shocking to me is how easily I have succumbed to its influence. I always thought that my personal life goals would keep me at a distance from the negative effects of my job. And they do, but not entirely. I am consistently immersed in an environment that perpetuates this treatment and understanding of models, that this is all I am, and it’s with a concerted effort that I keep a sense of self, separate from the industry, thriving.
On Sunday, Amelia and I walked along the High Line, expressing these frustrations while being acutely aware of how frivolous we sounded. It’s a strange duality, because we are emotionally affected by the industry, but it’s difficult to validate this to our confidantes back home because their realms of experience are so different that we just come off sounding vain and vapid. Amelia and I—we know we’re fucking lucky. By some absurd chance in biology and in cultural aesthetics, we’ve been given great opportunities to travel and earn money. But it’s easy to lose sight of that when the system breeds dissatisfaction by treating you as a disposable frame and nothing more.
Five blondes, all the same measurements, are put on hold for a job. What sets one apart from the other? To the client, not much; it’s a matter of taste. Modeling is a job where the clichéd adage “hard work pays off” does not necessarily apply. Because a girl can work very hard and do everything right, but her work ethic and her creativity and talent ultimately might not win out, when chance and taste are everything.
I’m sure the supermodels will disagree with me. But if they had any experience of being just a model at first, while trying to pursue other careers, then they should empathize.